By Chia Jie Min
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, Ruelia Nesaranjini quietly took part in the Schools National Track and Field Championships, won bronzes in the C Girls' 100m and 200m with unimpressive times (13.34sec and 27.54sec respectively) and just as quietly slipped out of the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.
Two weeks ago, the little-known 15-year-old North View Secondary student made everyone sit up when she grabbed the B Girls' 100m (12.68sec) and 200m (25.91sec) golds in times that narrowly missed the meet records (by 0.12sec and 0.26sec respectively).
It is a stunning transformation for someone whose school does not even have an athletics team, and who found a private coach to train her only last year.
It also suggests that this raw diamond's potential is very promising. As it is, her time in this year's B 100m final is just 0.02sec off the eighth-best timing at the 2008 South-east Asia Junior Championships. Her 200m time also makes her only the third local sprinter since 2008 to clock a sub-26sec time.
Said her coach Jacter Singh: 'Her starts are slow; she even stumbled at the beginning of the 100m race. But she makes up for it with her strong finishes.'
If selected, Ruelia will probably get a better idea of where she stands in the region at July's Asean School Games. But Jacter has high hopes for her.
'I'd love to see her don national colours. If she stays committed and disciplined, she stands a good chance of breaking the national record eventually,' he said, referring to Prema Govindan's 24.54sec 200m mark, which has stood since 1984.
Ruelia's most loyal fan is also hoping to see her fly the flag for Singapore one day.
'She has the talent and commitment, so hopefully she can represent Singapore at the SEA Games one day,' said Ruelia's father, Ravindran Rufus, 45.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.